If you can imagine Ayman al-Zawahiri singing The Banana Boat Song, perhaps you’ll get an idea of the irony — and the insult — of his message today to Barack Obama. Zawahiri called Obama a “house slave”, which other translators changed to “house Negro”, in condemning Obama’s election. If that sounds familiar, it should:
Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader used a racial epithet to insult Barack Obama in a message posted Wednesday, describing the president-elect in demeaning terms that imply he does the bidding of whites.
The message appeared chiefly aimed at persuading Muslims and Arabs that Obama does not represent a change in U.S. policies. Ayman al-Zawahri said in the message, which appeared on militant Web sites, that Obama is “the direct opposite of honorable black Americans” like Malcolm X, the 1960s African-American rights leader.
In al-Qaida’s first response to Obama’s victory, al-Zawahri also called the president-elect — along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — “house negroes.”
Speaking in Arabic, al-Zawahri uses the term “abeed al-beit,” which literally translates as “house slaves.” But al-Qaida supplied English subtitles of his speech that included the translation as “house negroes.”
Zawahiri channeled entertainer Harry Belafonte, who leveled the same slur against both Powell and Rice. After Powell publicly rebuked Belafonte for the insult, Belafonte hardly appeared contrite over it. In fact, he called Powell a “sell out”, using the same logic as Zawahiri uses here.
So what prompted this outburst? Well, the sun rose in the east, and the Caliphate remains a fevered fantasy, and that’s probably enough. Zawahiri objected to Obama’s plan to escalate the effort against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Apparently, Zawahiri thinks Malcolm X wouldn’t do that, or profess alliance to Israel, which are both true, and both as pointless as Zawahiri himself, since Obama has never professed to be a disciple of Malcolm X anyway.
At the least, it shows that racism and profiling exist in far greater quantities outside the US than within it. Except for the occasional exceptions to the rule, of course, like Harry Belafonte.
Update (AP): The NEFA Foundation has the full transcript in PDF.